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First Thoughts: When Willie Horton meets Jeremiah Wright

When Willie Horton meets Jeremiah Wright: NYT reports on conservative group considering launching Wright campaign against Obama… Our five immediate thoughts about this story… Romney closes the gap (in Wisconsin and in fundraising)… The “Mittness Protection Program” returns?... Biden was fired up and ready to go yesterday, and campaigns once again in Ohio today… Romney remains in Florida… Obama camp launches its Veterans & Military Families for Obama… And RNC hits Biden on coal.

In this file photos, President Obama folds his notes after speaking at news conference on Tuesday, April 29, 2008, about the latest assertion by his former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, that criticism of his fiery sermons is an attack on the black church.
In this file photos, President Obama folds his notes after speaking at news conference on Tuesday, April 29, 2008, about the latest assertion by his former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, that criticism of his fiery sermons is an attack on the black church.Jae C. Hong / AP

*** When Willie Horton meets Jeremiah Wright: Here’s today’s political bombshell, courtesy of the New York Times: A GOP-leaning Super PAC funded by the founder of TD Ameritrade and the owner of the Chicago Cubs, Joe Ricketts, is considering a proposal to launch TV ads re-litigating President Obama’s ties to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. And it would be timed to air leading up to the Democratic convention in September. “The $10 million plan, one of several being studied by Mr. Ricketts, includes preparations for how to respond to the charges of race-baiting it envisions if it highlights Mr. Obama’s former ties to Mr. Wright, who espouses what is known as ‘black liberation theology.’ The group suggested hiring as a spokesman an ‘extremely literate conservative African-American’ who can argue that Mr. Obama misled the nation by presenting himself as what the proposal calls a ‘metrosexual, black Abe Lincoln.’” How did the New York Times get its hands on this proposal? “A copy of a detailed advertising plan was obtained … through a person not connected to the proposal who was alarmed by its tone. It is titled ‘The Defeat of Barack Hussein Obama: The Ricketts Plan to End His Spending for Good.’”

*** Five immediate thoughts about this story: One, the advertising campaign -- if it aired -- would consume the Obama-Romney race for a week or more. Forget the economy, the deficit, even gay marriage; this ad would bury everything else. Think Swift Boats on steroids. Two, it’s questionable the campaign would work. While we know that there are conservatives who want to portray Obama as a socialist tied to people who hate America, his actual record over the past four years -- championing legislation that once had GOP support (stimulus, health-care reform, even cap-and-trade) and killing Osama bin Laden – doesn’t back-up the conspiratorial narrative portrayed in this plan. Keep in mind that Rev. Wright is a regular talking point on conservative media outlets (whether on TV or on radio), so this could be the result of a confirmation bias. How this would play with swing voters and how this could fire up a Democratic base that isn’t yet at 2008 levels is higher risk than the folks considering this may realize. Three, it’s clear that Ricketts, who’s fresh off helping Deb Fischer win the Nebraska Senate primary, wants to be a big political players. But question: Does the owner of the Chicago Cubs want to attack the world’s most famous man from Chicago? Four, this story is going to force Romney, the RNC, and others to have to comment. And five, while it might surprise you, this is really the first time the issue of race has been introduced into the 2012 contest. At least for a day or two, we’re going down the race rabbit hole…

*** Romney closes the gap: And now for the news that would have been today’s top political story if not for that New York Times piece above… A new poll out of Wisconsin and fresh fundraising numbers show that Mitt Romney is beginning to close the gap in a hurry after he wrapped up the GOP nomination a month ago. First, a Marquette Law School poll (conducted May 9-12) shows that President Obama and Romney are tied at 46% among likely voters; back in April, Obama led by four points in this survey. (The poll also shows Scott Walker with a six-point lead over Tom Barrett in the June 5 Wisconsin recall.) Romney needs industrial Midwestern states in play. His path to 270 counts on winning one or more of WI/OH/PA/MI. In addition, the Romney camp is announcing that it and the RNC raised $40.1 million in April, almost equaling the $43.6 million Team Obama and the DNC hauled in last month. What’s more, the Romney folks are reporting that they have more than $60 million in the bank. We always assumed this race would tighten after Romney became the presumptive nominee. But how quickly it has occurred -- especially on the fundraising front -- is very good news for the GOP. One thing worth noting: The RNC is refusing to comment until the FEC report is filed whether their $20 million-plus transfer is reflected in the new cash-on-hand number for Romney. That probably means yes.

*** “Mittness Protection Program” returns? So that’s the good news for Team Romney. The bad news is that they received plenty of blowback yesterday after the campaign prevented reporters from asking the candidate questions on the rope line. News outlets have been simmering about this issue behind the scenes for weeks, but it became public yesterday. The campaign later called that restriction “an error,” and Romney himself yesterday visited the back of the plane to briefly chat with the reporters following him -- an effort to calm any tension with the press corps. But the incident does highlight how the campaign is trying to protect him from tough questions (like on Bain Capital), and it harks back to the “Mittness Protection Program” narrative from last summer. Case in point: Romney yesterday answered questions about Bain Capital in an interview with a prominent conservative blogger, not the reporters who are actually covering him. No doubt that Romney has conducted plenty of interviews and town halls since last summer. But you do get the sense that Romney appears to be running out the clock rather than answering tough questions. Hence this quote from a foreign-policy adviser in a Sunday New York Times piece about his undefined foreign-policy views: “Romney doesn’t want to really engage these issues until he is in office.”

*** A fired-up Biden: For the second day in a row, Vice President Biden campaigns in Ohio (at 11:15 am ET in Martin’s Ferry). And yesterday, he was fired up and ready to go. In fact, this was the “fire and brimstone” Biden of 1987. It’s a reminder that when he’s on, he can talk to Joe Sixpack and be a big political asset to Team Obama.

*** Elsewhere on the trail: Also today, Romney remains out in Florida, where he holds an event in Jacksonville at 2:35 pm ET. And the Obama campaign is launching its Veterans & Military Families for Obama today, while the RNC is hitting Biden on coal.

Countdown to WI recall: 19 days
Countdown to GOP convention: 102 days
Countdown to Dem convention: 109 days
Countdown to Election Day: 173 days

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